Satellite images taken Tuesday show new activity at the Yongbyon Radiochemistry Laboratory, a key facility in North Korea‘s nuclear weapons program, fueling suspicion that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is seeking to put public pressure on President Biden and wants to force the U.S. to make diplomatic concessions.
The new images show steam coming from a small building and its associated thermal plant at the Yongbyon location. The images were taken by the space technology company Maxar Technologies and publicly released Tuesday by Beyond Parallel, a project of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Analysts with CSIS said the Yongbyon lab is “used to reprocess spent fuel rods to extract plutonium for use in nuclear weapons,” and that activity at the site could suggest that North Korea is in the early stages of ramping up parts of its nuclear program.
The revelation comes on the heels of two recent North Korean missile tests, both of which seemed designed to provoke the U.S.
“This activity, taken in combination with short-range ballistic missile and cruise missile tests since January, may all be components of a strategic political move by Kim Jong-un to continue slowly ratcheting up pressure on both the new administration of President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, or a combination of both,” CSIS specialists Joseph Bermudez and Victor Cha wrote in an analysis that accompanied the new image.
But a second round of tests last week — which saw North Korea fire two ballistic missiles into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan — was a more serious matter. The U.S. and its allies said the tests violated United Nations resolutions, and Mr. Biden said there would be a price to pay if Pyongyang continues its provocations.
“We are consulting with our allies and partners, and there will be a response if they choose to escalate,” the president said at a press conference last week. “We will respond accordingly. But I’m also prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.”
The White House still is in the process of developing its complete North Korea strategy.
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